“A death sentence doesn’t come with an eraser,” says John Broderick, the former chief justice of New Hampshire’s Supreme Court and, surprisingly, a former death penalty supporter. Broderick, now Dean of the University of New Hampshire School of Law, believes that life without parole is adequate, because we cannot afford to execute the innocent. He is part of a powerful, growing movement to repeal the death penalty in New Hampshire. This week, that movement got even closer to its goal.
On April 3, 2014 the New Hampshire Senate Judiciary Committee held a hearing on House Bill 1170, a bill to repeal the state’s death penalty. The bill was approved by the House on March 12, 2014. At the hearing, Senators heard testimony about the bill. More than 50 people, including the relatives of murder victims, former prosecutors and retired police officers, urged repeal. Less than a dozen spoke in favor of keeping the death penalty intact.
Recently, the House in New Hampshire voted to pass HB 1170. If this bill becomes a law, it will only apply to future cases. It would not spare the life of Michael Addison, who is the only person on death row in New Hampshire. Addison was sentenced to death for the murder of Officer Michael Briggs in 2006.
Rep. Renny Cushing, the primary sponsor of the bill and an ardent advocate for abolishing the death penalty, lost his father to murder in 1988. Rep. Cushing argues that we turn society into killers when killing murderers, in turn giving those murderers more power. After the 225-104 House vote, the fate of New Hampshire is now in the hands of the Senate.
The majority of speakers at the hearing urged the committee to repeal the bill, particularly emphasizing the racial bias that exists in capital punishment. In addition to citing racial bias and innocence as strong factors for opposing the death penalty, Senators also expressed concern that the cost of the appeal process in death penalty cases is too high. Sen. Martha Fuller Clark said the “Death Penalty [is] flawed, expensive and cruel.” There is a strong consensus that the Senate will follow the lead of the House.
The Senate Judiciary Committee will hold an executive session on Tuesday, April 8th where they will discuss and vote on the bill. If passed out of committee, HB 1170 is expected to go to the whole Senate for consideration the following week on April 17th. We’ll be watching this legislation in the coming weeks as it moves forward. Be sure to follow NCADP on Twitter and Facebook for ongoing updates on death penalty repeal in New Hampshire.